The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, DC has been putting on Henry IV, parts 1 and 2 these past few weeks. We took our kids to see both performances, and here are our collective family thoughts.
For those unfamiliar with the plays, Henry IV has deposed (and probably killed) his cousin, Richard II and ascended the throne. His oldest son and heir, Prince Hal, carouses in taverns with Lord John Falstaff. The plays trace the growth and maturity of Prince Hal from “party animal” to king.
The second of the two plays is much more somber in tone, as Hal comes to terms with his responsibilities and sheds his old life and friends. Both plays are excellent productions. Edward Gero (who has played Scrooge in Ford’s Theatre’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol” for several years) is Henry IV. Stacy Keach plays Falstaff. Prince Hal is played by Matthew Amendt. The acting is well done and restrained. It is easy to play Falstaff as a caricature (and he is for much of Part 1), but his buffoonery is shown for the weakness it is in Part 2. Similarly, playing Prince Hal requires a deft touch so that you understand and appreciate the wild youth but also understand and appreciate the prince’s growth into a king. His role is the emotional linchpin of both plays. Henry IV is seen initially in Part 1 as a strong and decisive ruler, and it is only in Part 2 that you see the unease and insecurity of a man who won the throne by force as opposed to inheriting it.
Our fifteen year old daughter much preferred Part 1 over Part 2. In fact, she completely disagreed with Prince Hal’s decision to turn his back on his old friends and banish Falstaff. The drunken carouser was much more interesting to her than the responsible king. <sigh>
Our twelve year old son also preferred Part 1—mainly because there was a battle scene in it. He liked the broad comedic value of Falstaff (which mostly vanishes in Part 2). Much of the issues of responsibility and maturity went over his head, but shedding friends is not his style, and he also disapproved of Prince Hal for doing so.
Jim and I generally preferred Part 2 over Part 1. The coming-of-age theme resonated with us in a way that it understandably did not with our children. This was an extremely well done production, and we highly recommend seeing it.